Xá Lợi Pagoda is one of the most famous pagodas in Ho Chi Minh City. The name Xá Lợi is Vietnamese translation for Śarīra, a generic term referring to Buddhist relics. The pagoda is not only known for the typical architecture but also a mark of the Buddhist struggle against the dictatorship of Ngô Đình Diệm, which was discrimination and religious persecution. Furthermore, this place marked a historical milestone of the unification of Buddhism in Vietnam.
The pagoda was started construction on August 5, 1956, during the First Republic of Vietnam time. It was build according to the drawings of architects Trần Văn Đường and Đỗ Bá Vinh. The construction site was controlled by engineers Dư Ngọc Ánh and Hồ Tố Thuận. It was completed on May 2, 1958.
The pagoda was built to worship Gautama Buddha’s Śarīra (Xá Lợi Đức Phật). Therefore, it was originally called the Xá Lợi Đức Phật Pagoda. However, the local people used to call Xá Lợi pagoda for short, so when it was inaugurated, the monk Khánh Anh named the pagoda Xá Lợi to match people’s hearts. In 1961, tower stands 32 m, has seven stories, was built. Inside the tower is a giant bell that weighs up to 2 tons. The bell has a diameter of 1.2m, and is 1.6m high. This is the tallest bell tower in the Vietnamese pagoda.
From 1951 to 1981, Xá Lợi pagoda was the headquarters of the South Vietnamese Buddhist Association. In the two years 1964-1966, the pagoda was a teaching area of Vạn Hanh University. From 1981 to May 1993, the pagoda served as the headquarters of the Vietnamese Buddhist Association (second office).
2. Protests and raids in 1963
During the Buddhist crisis of 1963, when monks and their followers campaigned against the tyranny of Ngô Đình Nhiệm’s regime. On June 11, 1963, monk Thích Quảng Đức traveled from Xá Lợi Pagoda and self-immolated in protest against the policies of the regime. The image of the burning monk was transmitted around the world and created the dilemma the government.
Because of being epicenter of the struggle in Saigon. Therefore, around 00:20 on 21 August 1963, the Special Forces were armed with pistols, submachine guns, carbines, shotguns, grenades, tear gas… conducted a massive assault into the pagoda. The commander announced military control over Saigon, and instituting press censorship. Across the country, hundreds of monks were estimated to have killed, and more than one thousand were incarcerated.
However, the attacks had created the war which lead to the dead of Diệm and his brother Ngô Đình Nhu on November 2, 1963.
Xá Lợi is the first pagoda of the city built in modern architecture although it has many characteristics of ancient architecture. The pagoda has 2 gates. The main gate is on Bà Huyện Thanh Quan Street and another one faces Sư Thiện Chiếu Street. Two gates of the pagodas are built according to Vietnamese traditional style – the three-arched-entrances, with red tiles. On top of each gate was placed a dharma wheel at the middle.
Crossing the main gate, there is a big yard with many green trees, bonsais, plants and flowers. A 6 metter high statue of Guanyin standing on a lotus flower, carved in monolithic stone, is located at the corner.
The pagoda also has the main hall for worshiping Buddha, the lecture hall, the bell tower, the library, the monks’ room, the office, the dining hall, the book publishing room, Ksitigarbha hall…However, the most attractive one is the main hall. It was built according to modern architectural style with a cube shape and two floors. The first floor is used as the lecture hall and the second floor is used as the main hall. Two charming and wide zigzag staircases leading to the main hall.
There is a big Buddha statue covered with gold in the main hall. In front of the statue is placed a small statue of Guanyin statue and Buddha Maitreya. Above the statue of Buddha, there is a green bodhi leaf-shaped stupa reserving Śarīra.
There is also a large set of 14 paintings, made by Professor Nguyễn Văn Long, depicting from the life of the Gautama Buddha, from his birth as Prince Siddhartha to his attainment of nirvana.
Opening hours of Main Hall: Moring: 7:00 – 11:00 | Afternoon: 14:00 – 17:00 | Evening: 18:00 – 19:00 | On special occasions: 7:00 – 21:00.
Rules and regulations: Please take your shoes off and put them on the shelf before entering the Main Hall.